2013 was fun...

Let's do it again in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Ending 2013 is as easy as A(mos), B(areilles), C(ook)

My 2013 "touring" schedule ended with fantastic concerts by Sara Bareilles, David Cook, and Amos Lee. While each of these artists is admittedly very different from the other two, you can still link the trio through their genuine passion for music. The output might vary, but in the end there is unity.

Sara Bareilles - Lakewood Civic Auditorium (Cleveland) -
October 12, 2013

In October, Sara Bareilles performed at Lakewood Civic Auditorium near Cleveland. Don't let the "fancy" name fool you, this venue was a high school auditorium that somehow got itself on a booking list for artists like Sara, Barenaked Ladies, Amos Lee, John Mayer, Jason Mraz, and more. Sara may have just played Radio City Music Hall for the first time mere days earlier, but nothing grounds a rock star like booster clubs selling dollar bottled water to your show or your front row fans standing in what was, less than 24 hours earlier, inhabited by a Proactiv-wearing bassoon-player.

What rhymes with Clarkston?

This week, Maroon 5 (plus sixth-man Sam Farrar) and Kelly Clarkson brought their dual tour to both Cleveland and Clarkston (Detroit), filling nearly four hours with non-stop hits and further cementing the obviousness of a joint tour with the two artists. Two of the most popular artists in pop(ular) music, they have also each been successful for over 10 years. They have each taken great care in releasing true-to-self music without degrading or being afraid of habitating the more pop side of pop/rock, and as a result were able to fill an entire evening with some of the most anthemic pop hits of the last decade.

Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson have each grown up with their (diversely-aged) fans, evolving into the kind of people who get engaged (mostly them), buy homes (mostly them), and solidify 401ks (hey, there’s one for me!). Both acts have established here-to-stay-as-long-as-they-choose careers, and the result is a tour of like-minded (and admittedly mostly female) fans who live for this kind of sweaty, knee-cracking amphitheater tour with artists we've loved since our more flat stomached, higher energy level school days.

There was no pitchy stripping needed at either concert, and a 15-minute technical delay during Kelly’s set in Clarkston couldn’t even dampen the mood (either Detroit forgot to pay its bills, or Miley snuck into the electrical equipment to do some damage. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure security found a Hannah Montana wig backstage). http://instantrimshot.com/

This tour is another must-see for any fan of music. It gets the "That's So Abby" thumbs up, AND seal of approval. You're so welcome. 

You can see my Cleveland photos here and my Detroit photos here.

Both groups had the same setlist for each show:

Maroon 5 Setlist Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH, USA 2013, 2013 Honda Civic Tour

Kelly Clarkson Setlist Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH, USA 2013, 2013 Honda Civic Tour

Justin Timberlake & Jay Z charge lots of D to the izz-Os L-L to the izz-As in Detroit

I'll admit, several months ago when Justin Timberlake/Jay Z concert tickets went on sale for a tour that would visit just a handful of cities, including one just an hour from me, the solid marketing hype plan of the two artists had me holding out my credit card and saying "take it all, I don't need to eat or have shelter." So, I jumped at the 9th row ticket that came up on Ticketmaster for the cost of seeing most other artists 5-6 times. But, as the show at Ford Field in Detroit became closer and closer, I started to get SexyBack remorse, and tried to sell my ticket online. But, when a concert is in a football stadium that doesn't sell out, that's not so easy to do. I ended up going to the show anyway, and it was perfectly entertaining. Both artists were just as exciting to see in person as you'd expect. But I couldn't help the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that this show was hugely overpriced (in a city that just declared bankruptcy), and I still couldn't see all that well from a seat that was marketed as 9th row seat but in reality located more Lions bench warmer than end zone.

All in all, both Justin and Jay Z electrified the massive crowd as much as any artist could in such a large venue. And it was completely my choice to pay what I did for the concert. I guess one of Jay Z's 99 problems is charging a thrifty ticket price. Lesson learned.

Check out my photos here as well as a video I took of Justin and Jay Z singing "Forever Young" from Jay Z's The Blueprint 3:

Justin Timberlake featuring Jay-Z Setlist Ford Field, Detroit, MI, USA 2013, Legends of the Summer

Detroit gives Bruno Mars all the attention ... baby

When Bruno Mars brought his Moonshine Jungle Tour to Detroit this summer, it was clear why he's one of the most celebrated artists in music right now. For 90 minutes, Bruno lit up the Palace of Auburn Hills with a list of massive past, current, and future singles that any musician would envy. The guy can really do it all, sing, dance, play numerous instruments, and charm a stadium crowd like it's a small theater. I urge everyone to go see Bruno in concert, if at all possible. He's truly a treasure.

All of my photos can be seen here.

Bruno Mars Setlist The Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, MI, USA 2013

I Will Wait ... and Wait ... For Kelly Clarkson in Indianapolis

As one of Microsoft's go-to artists, Kelly Clarkson had a busy weekend at the end of June helping the company to promote two of its new Midwest stores - one in Troy, Michigan (near Detroit) and the other in Indianapolis. While the Troy concert was cut short due to heavy thunderstorms (not for lack of trying by a very wet Kelly to keep the show going), the Indianapolis show the next evening held promise for better conditions. Thus, while the Michigan concert was ending, I decided to "weather" (rim shot) the potential for more storms at Keystone Mall, where about 150 fans came out the night before to try to be part of the first 100 fans that would get to meet Kelly.

Just like in Cleveland in April, a group of fans spent about 13 hours in line (the majority of which was in a parking garage with conditions that would probably be frowned upon by a homeless prostitute) with the end goal of seeing a stellar outdoor Kelly concert and meeting her after the show. Our lives definitely sucked without access to clean toilets, but we stuck it out for the glory of a promised meeting with Kelly briefer than the career of a contestant from The Voice (ooh, burn).

In the end, us "lucky ones" got our wristbands for the show/meet and greet, and a few of us even got prizes from Microsoft, such as Surface tablets, an X-box, gift cards and more. As a result of a well-written and timed hash tag on Twitter, I was picked to win an autographed Fender guitar courtesy of the Microsoft social media team and Miss Indy herself. Clearly, I was thrilled (and I've already learned a few chords that will one day put me on track to play an entire pop anthem).

It turns out the weather was just as uncooperative in Indianapolis as it was Troy, but this time the Microsoft people had a backup venue planned (these people are pros. I guess you have to be with a brand as well-known as Microsoft, but I was constantly impressed by the staff, both in sight and behind the scenes, and its desire to make as many fans happy as possible; something that is never easy when you have a few thousand dedicated music fans in one place).

The concert went on as (sort of) planned at Latitude 39 down the street from the mall, and Kelly performed a full set in a Dave & Bustery-plus bowling alley setting that was much more intimate than any venue she's played in years. It was win-win for Kelly, Microsoft, the fans and that kid that hit the jackpot in the arcade and likely went home with a killer pencil sharpener.

Jason Halbert, keyboard player and musical director extraordinaire, was missed (due to a family emergency). As a result, instead of performing "Because of You," a concert staple since 2004, Kelly added a Mumford & Sons cover of "I Will Wait." Turns out that was a fitting addition for the fans who would wait nearly any amount of time to get a few moments with an artist who gets better and better every time she performs. There are very few people I would spend 13 hours in a parking garage waiting to see. But, don't worry, Kelly, a little hooker grime can't keep me away from you.

All my photos are here.

Full set list:

Kelly Clarkson Setlist Latitude 39, Indianapolis, IN, USA 2013, Microsoft Store Opening

The Blessed Bareilles: Live in Chicago 2013

Earlier this month, I posted a link to the full audio of Sara Bareilles' concert in Chicago, and now that I've had time to reflect, I think it's important to share a little bit more about the show.

If you have had a chance to listen to the audio, I hope it brought even a percentage of the enjoyment I received from the actual show, because this somewhat crude recording doesn't even scratch the surface of what was a truly spectacular evening event. I've seen Sara perform about 15 times over the past six years, and she has never, ever disappointed. Whether performing a full set or just a handful of songs in support of another artist, she has always brought an unmatched presence to the stage and to her audiences. Not only does she have one of the most stunning and haunting voices in music right now, but she's a one-of-a-kind, genuine comedic gem. Basically, anyone who has ever seen her live or heard her through a YouTube or Soundcloud clip knows that she's a f*cking riot. I'm not even kidding, that innocent, Golden Girls and Little Mermaid-worshipping ball of love spews some of the dirtiest, raunchiest, most intelligently f*cked up humor ever uttered by a card carrying Lilith Fair (circa 2010, the revival) veteran.

But, like I said, this show was special. Currently touring in advance of her third album release (The Blessed Unrest, available July 16), Sara's sold out "Brave Enough" tour only passed through about a dozen major cities, the closest to Toledo being the Chicago stop. I knew when the tour was announced that it wasn't something to be missed, no matter the miles. And, in truth, it is very rare to get to experience a show like the one Sara gave at the intimate Park West venue, particularly from an artist who is fully capable of selling out venues five times its size.

Imagine a VH1 Storytellers-esque setting. Nothing but a modest piano, a couple mic stands, and a sprinkling of a few guitars and ukuleles on the stage. Just an artist, her voice, and her instruments. That's what Sara brought to Chicago, performing alone on stage, essentially for the first time, without a backing band. It was extraordinary, and she had the entire room of about 1,000 fans in the palm of her exquisitely talented hands. On that night, any one of the people in the audience could have claimed to be "Sara's biggest fan," and every one of them would have been right. Gliding through a nearly two-hour set list of old favorites (some with new arrangements), some brand new future favorites, and extended between-song conversations, Sara sang and spoke from her heart, on a stage decorated like her own Manhattan living room while making every audience member feel at home. She was, blessedly Bareilles.

All of my photos can be viewed here.

[FULL AUDIO] Sara Bareilles - Live at Park West - Chicago, IL May 2, 2013

Thursday night I got to see Sara Bareilles live and remarkable at Park West in Chicago as part of her sold out Brave Enough Tour. I have uploaded the full audio of the show below (note the download link if you would like to save the audio to your computer).

Check back in a few days for a full review plus tons of pictures.

Sara Bareilles Setlist Park West, Chicago, IL, USA 2013, The Brave Enough Tour

All hail, Microsoft and Kelly Clarkson

Over the past few years, Kelly Clarkson and Microsoft have developed a nice partnership. The latter has opened more than 30 Microsoft Stores in recent years, each one throwing a large-scale grand opening in its respective location with a big-name musician to help encourage fans to come out in even bigger numbers.

Along with Kelly (who has performed at store openings in several different cities), other artists who have taken part in these grand openings, putting on free-to-the-fans concerts, include Blake Shelton, Ne-Yo, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Neon Trees, Weezer, Train, The Black Keys and more.

While I've bi-curiously teetered back and forth between being a Mac and a PC, depending on the situation, I'm all Kelly fan (clearly). When a new Microsoft Store opening was announced for Beachwood Place in Cleveland (just two hours away), on a weekend, with Kelly Clarkson performing a free outdoor concert, there really wasn't too much I had to think about. Besides, all the weather forecasts called for slightly chilly temperatures in the 40s-50s and little chance of rain. It would be fine, right? Read on...

Cirque du P!nk: Pop star showers Detroit with delayed gratification

In a career spanning 10+ years, P!nk never performed a proper headlining show in the Detroit area until earlier this month. Yet, bringing her "Truth About Love" tour to The Palace of Auburn Hills, P!nk proved that gratification is so often better when it's delayed. Widely acknowledged as the pop tour of the year, P!nk's show combines powerful (and never lip synced) vocals, sassy anthems, and graceful acrobatics that could be straight out of Cirque du Soleil.

P!nk's body and voice soared to every corner of the basketball arena over the course of a two-hour set that encompassed more than a decade of hits. She ended the evening with an astonishing performance of "Glitter in the Air," leaving a portion of the crowd drenched in a mix of venue water and her own sweat. But, I'm guessing not one of them minded.

Please see the rest of my photos here.

P!nk Setlist The Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, MI, USA 2013, The Truth About Love Tour

Crystal Bowersox: Life is Just her Stage

Crystal Bowersox may currently pay her taxes to the Oregon state government, but Toledo welcomed her home in early March for a concert and fundraiser for her alma mater, Toledo School for the Arts.

Kicking off her tour at the Seagate Convention Center in support of her (at the time unreleased) album "All That for This," Crystal treated the hometown crowd to live versions of the entire new record weeks before it was available for sale. However, some perceptive Toledoans may have recognized the song, "Home," a version of which Crystal performed in 2011 at The Valentine Theatre.

The only nod to her debut album, "Farmer's Daughter," was a performance of Glass City-favorite "Holy Toledo." The song, written pre-Idol, remains a battle cry for local fans inspired by Crystal and her rise from the ashes of a past plagued by pain and struggle. Crystal's friend and local bass master, Frankie May, joined her on stage for a trio of songs from their 2012 EP, "Once Upon a Time." For the conclusion of her main set before the encore, Crystal also invited a choir from Toledo School for the Arts to sing a powerful rendition of her new song, "Everything Falls into Place." Crystal stressed that keeping the arts in schools is crucial, saying that it no doubt saved her life at a time when she felt lost and struggled for direction.

Keep an eye out for Crystal as she prepares for the next stage in her journey, playing the role of Patsy Cline on Broadway.

Crystal may have shifted gears and left "Holy Toledo," but she knows she always has a home here.

Check out all my photos here, as well as the set list below.

Crystal Bowersox Setlist Seagate Convention Center, Toledo, OH, USA 2013

A fun. night in Detroit

The puns are endless, making me wonder if artists like Live and The Band would have chosen their names in a post-Google society. If they knew and utilized what we do now, technologically, would they choose something a little further outside the Merriam Webster lines? Or would they just add some subtle formatting and punctuation to their names like current worldwide sensations (and 21st-century answer to "Who's On First"), fun.?

I recently took my 15-year-old sister, Keri, to see fun. in Detroit. It was her first concert, and we both loved it. In fact, she came into the historic Fillmore Detroit knowing just the group's two biggest hits ("We are Young" and "Some Nights"), and left saying that fun. was now her favorite band. It was a thrill for me to experience her first "post concert high" with her, one that I know so well.

After we saw fun. in Detroit, the band (not The Band) went on to win Best New Artist and Song of the Year at the 2013 Grammy Awards. And when you search for "fun" on Google now, the first result is the artist. Yep, they beat Google; how fun (yeah, I totally went there). 

Check out all my photos of the concert here.

fun. Setlist The Fillmore Detroit, Detroit, MI, USA 2013, Out in Your Town Tour

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals "beastly" in Royal Oak

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals is quite possibly the best current rock band that nine out of 10 of my friends have never heard of. Seeing them live for the second time recently, I was struck by just how fantastic this group is as well as how underrated they continue to be. Currently touring in support of their album, "The Lion The Beast The Beat" (my pick for the best new album of 2012), GPN took the stage at their recent show in Royal Oak, Michigan to the infamous sound from MGM Studios' production logo. (Rawr.)

From "roaring" to wailing to animalistic jamming, GPN dug its teeth into each song, gloriously ripping the audience's heart out and leaving it breathless yet sated.

All of my photos are here.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals Setlist Royal Oak Music Theatre, Royal Oak, MI, USA, Winter Roar Tour 2013

It also must be noted that Langhorne Slim & the Law was the opening act for the show and a perfect example of why concert goers can really benefit by showing up early. I had never heard of the group (though I recognized their song "Worries" from a Travelers Insurance commercial and would soon hear their song "The Way We Move" in a Windows 8 commercial). But I was quickly, and massively, impressed by the band's non-stop energy and brilliant intensity. I'm calling it now: they're the next big thing.